As I have observed before, Simak’s books tend to fall into just a couple categories. This one is another first-contact story although a bit different from the others I’ve reviewed.
Parker, a newspaper man (a Simak favorite characterization), is coming home one night, pretty drunk. And that’s probably what saved his life from the trap just in front of his apartment door. If he hadn’t dropped the keys and got down on his knees to find them, he would have stepped directly onto the trap disguised to look like the rest of the carpet in the hall. But when he failed to step onto the trap, the trap rolled itself up into a bowling ball and sped down the hall. Unable to deal with that or come up with a satisfactory explanation, he simply passed out in bed. But the next morning, the semi-circle cut out of the carpet was still there. And if it weren’t for that shoddy attempt on his life, they might have gotten away with it…
As a newspaperman, he starts hearing stories about people desperate to find a place to live but there literally are no homes to buy, no apartments to rent. It never occurred to Parker that such a thing would happen to him but it did he was evicted with no explanation. The next odd thing was that he was sent out to cover a story about a store closing and not just any store: the family-owned for decades, lynchpin of the community, meeting place for neighbors type store. The surprise came when the spokesperson for the new owners informed everyone that the store would be closing permanently. No one could make any sense of it: the family had been paid top dollar, it was a profitable business…why would it be bought only to be closed?
With a sense of dread, Parker took himself out to a local shopping area and discovered that most of the businesses had been bought out and were closing…all at the same time. And the previous owners had a non-disclosure agreement which explained why his friend and landlord hadn’t told him his apartment building had been sold. All of the events had links to the same lawyer firm; so, being a good newspaperman, Parker took it upon himself to do a little B&E late that night. What he found was so disturbing and horrifying, he just couldn’t come to grips with it. (I would love to give more description but on the off-chance you, my reader, might want to read this, I just can’t give away some of the best stuff.)
But now knowing what he does, Parker realizes he’s in even more danger and his would-be girlfriend, Joy, is in the same danger. He returns to confront the aliens and manages to capture some. On the run, Parker goes to the one person who might be able to explain what he has in his bag along with the talking dog who also hates the bowling balls his old friend Carleton. But there are no answers there for Parker and Joy. And the dog is no particular help; especially after he deserts them to try his luck talking to the U.S. President.
The story ends up stealing an idea from H.G. Wells to particularly good effect. It wasn’t due to any superior intellect or research by either our intrepid newspaperman or his friend the scientist; it was just dumb luck. But Parker was the type who recognized dumb luck when he saw it and imagined a way to use it to stop the aliens. The plot bears more than a passing resemblance to another Simak story, “All Flesh is Grass.” But it was a fun read, more horror than any other Simak tale so far. I say “horror” because the aliens are so cold and remote (hmmm…also makes me think of “The Visitors”), their plans for Earth so calculating, that it doesn’t seem like there is anything anyone can do. In a clever twist, the aliens use our own laws against us and protest they do nothing wrong or illegal. Not one of my favorites, but I enjoyed the story. ~~ Catherine Book
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